In advance of the River Road Wine Trail’s first annual “Tunes, Trucks and Tastes” event on June 12, 2016, we are doing our best to visit those way-too-unknown but oh-so-easy to get to wineries along the western Salinas Valley, sitting at the eastern foothills of the coastal Santa Lucia Mountains.
We have been out and about on the Wine Trail and learned that this special food, entertainment and wine event is selling out quickly! Go here to learn more and to purchase your tickets!
A common thread on the River Road Wine Trail is family-owned vineyards and tasting rooms. These gems are usually situated on farmland that is been in the same family for several generations. Our next winery profile is one such winery—Manzoni Vineyard and Tasting Room, on River Road west of the city of Soledad.
Manzoni family patriarch Joseph immigrated from his native Switzerland and found his way to the Salinas Valley in the early 1930s, settling alongside a vibrant cluster of Swiss-Italian immigrants who established numerous dairies and made grappa wine as a hobby. The daily business gave way to row crop farming, and in 1990, Joseph’s son Louis and grandsons Mark and Michael planted the first wine grapes rootstock.
Our host was a gentleman named Mick, who entertained us with his knowledge of wine and his stories of growing up in England and working as a roadie in the 1980s. A self-admitted “wine whore” with a pretty impressive collection of wine at his home, Mick’s company will have you lingering long after you have sipped the tasting room’s selections.
First up was a 2014 Pinot Gris. There are very few Pinot Gris grapes growing in the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation, so admittedly we don’t have a lot of experience with this variety. The bouquet has undertones of orange, apple, fennel and vanilla, with citrus, apple, pear and an oak finish in your mouth. This wine is made in the Alsace style, which is a region in Northern France. This wine, which can be chilled, would do fine with a bit more aging (no more than another 2 years on your shelf), would pair perfectly with an appetizer platter of melon and prosciutto.
A 2014 Chardonnay was next in line. There is a tropical fruit sensation on the nose and a fruity acidity on the palate with a bit of vanilla at the end. There is a minimal oaky finish. This chardonnay would love to be on your table next to a delicately-seasoned roast chicken.
Naturally one has to try a Pinot Noir, so we sampled a 2013 Estate Reserve. There’s dark cherry and very subtile spices when you take your first whiff, with red plum and cherry with a hint of oak and earthiness on the tongue.
A logical next taste was the 2013 Home Vineyard Syrah. This wine is still a bit young and will benefit from some time being cared for in your wine collection. But all of the good stuff is there—a black cherry and plum scent on the nose, and as the wine is exposed to air, the dark stone scent builds and is very pleasurable. The dark stone fruit scents happily persists into your mouth, with the tannins producing a slight leather taste. The flavors are complex but not busy, and the wine has a strong finish, This wine would like to be paired with game meats or a lean cut of beef.
The 2013 Zinfandel is grown in the nearby Arroyo Seco appellation. This bold wine has a strong blackberry and blueberry and pleasant smokiness on the nose. This wine is still young and would benefit from some time just sitting around, but all of the goodness that is Zinfandel is present. If you must drink it, be certain to decant it and let it rest a bit to bring out the plum, blackberry and tannins to please your taste buds. Our singular non-wine drinker took a sip, then finished his taste and proclaimed “I want a bottle of this.” Think of enjoying some spicy buffalo wings with this wine.
Finally, we concluded with a 2009 Bella Vino dessert wine. The dark chocolate taste on our palate made us wish for a platter with blue cheese and apple to nosh on. Our designated driver through this port would be excellent in her summer blueberry preserves that can be enjoyed on toast or to eat over a premium vanilla ice cream.
Manzoni’s Inner Circle wine club offers several different levels, from the basic “Cru” membership consisting of two bottles at a 15% discount twice a year to the Premier Cru, which is 12 bottles at a 25% discount—and you get to choose your favorite wines four times a year.
There is a Manzoni tasting room located in Carmel, at the Paseo Courtyard of San Carols, between Ocean and 7th Avenue, if you don’t want to wait until the weekend to visit the tasting room on the estate.
People come to Manzoni for the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. We left with a bottle of the Zinfandel, a bottle of the Home Vineyard Syrah, and a Manzoni-branded wine suitcase (that last purchase being pretty random but we are super-excited about it!).